There is a horrible triple murder being investigated this morning in North Carolina where three people from a Muslim family were allegedly murdered by Craig Stephen Hicks, 46. Some are speculating that Hicks’ strong atheist views may have been a factor after reading this “anti-theist” positions on the Internet. He has been described in some media account as a “radical atheist” though atheists have rarely engaged in violent acts against religious persons. UPDATE: Police have said that the dispute was not religiously motivated but a dispute over a parking space.
All three victims are from the same family and identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. From all accounts, the family was the epitome of a hard-working and successful American family. Barakat was a dental student at the University of North Carolina was a volunteer giving free dental care to Palestinian children. He also helped provide free dental supplies to 75 homeless people in downtown Durham. The recently married couple also organized a fundraiser to raise money for dental care for refugees from Syria. Barakat was going to travel to Turkey to help treat child refugees. His sister-in-law Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha had been studying for a degree at North Carolina State University in Architecture and Environmental Design.
All three were shot in the head.
Hicks posted anti-religious positions on the Internet and asked “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues”? His page suggests that he is paralegal at Durham Technical Community College. He reported turned himself in.
News organizations have been focusing on Hicks’ anti-religious statements on the Internet as well as his photograph of a gun. However, anti-religious sentiments do not naturally lead to gunning down family’s of religious people (any more than stated religious beliefs or anti-atheist views naturally leads to killing atheists or agnostics). That does not mean that this was not a motivation in this case but we have little information at this point. Update: The police said that they have evidence of a long-standing parking space dispute.
Atheist leaders immediately condemned the murders. The numerous articles focusing on Hicks’ reported atheist views show no specific connection to this family or advocacy of anti-religious violence. However, it creates the possibility of a crime motivated by religious hostilities and is presumably being investigated as a possible hate crime. In the end, the classification of the murders as a hate crime are unlikely to materially affect the prosecution in the case if Hicks confessed to the murders. The question remains an insanity defense. As previously discussed, the insanity defense has been substantially curtailed in this country. I believe that North Carolina uses the M’Naghten Rule with the burden of proof on the defendant. The test is generally defined as meaning “the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason from disease or deficiency of mind at the time of the alleged act as to be (1) incapable of knowing the nature and quality of his act, or (2) incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong with respect to such act.” State v. Mancuso, 364 S.E.2d 359 (1988) (relying on State v. Evangelista, 319 N.C. 152, 353 S.E.2d 375 (1987)).
Once invoked, the state can press for an examination, though it is often ordered by the Court sua sponte.
(a) If a defendant intends to raise the defense of insanity, the defendant must file a notice of the defendant’s intention to rely on the defense of insanity as provided in G.S. 15A-905(c) and, if the case is not subject to that section, within a reasonable time prior to trial. The court may for cause shown allow late filing of the notice or grant additional time to the parties to prepare for trial or make other appropriate orders.
(b) In cases not subject to the requirements of G.S. 15A-905(c), if a defendant intends to introduce expert testimony relating to a mental disease, defect, or other condition bearing upon the issue of whether the defendant had the mental state required for the offense charged, the defendant must within a reasonable time prior to trial file a notice of that intention. The court may for cause shown allow late filing of the notice or grant additional time to the parties to prepare for trial or make other appropriate orders.
(c) Upon motion of the defendant and with the consent of the State the court may conduct a hearing prior to the trial with regard to the defense of insanity at the time of the offense. If the court determines that the defendant has a valid defense of insanity with regard to any criminal charge, it may dismiss that charge, with prejudice, upon making a finding to that effect. The court’s denial of relief under this subsection is without prejudice to the defendant’s right to rely on the defense at trial. If the motion is denied, no reference to the hearing may be made at the trial, and recorded testimony or evidence taken at the hearing is not admissible as evidence at the trial. (1973, c. 1286, s. 1; 1977, c. 711, s. 25; 2004-154, s. 10.)